Our kids are almost 7 and 8 so we are always on the lookout for places to take them. The easiest thing now that they’re older is to get them down to the beach and let them run wild. But when they were young, the need to get them (and me) out of the house was just as urgent.
If you’re planning a trip to Oahu soon, check out these options as suggestions from a local family. This list is in no particular order, just some things we have done with the kids that are the most enjoyable for them. I split this into two categories: Outdoor and Indoor, because… sometimes it rains on your outdoor parade.
Click on the images for each activity’s main website.
1. Hiking Trails
Whether you carry the babies in a carrier or make them walk, being outside in Hawaii is simply the best. The fresh air, the smell of the tropical plants… it’s so rejuvenating. Not every hiking trail is best for kids, so check that our first. I joined a Facebook group called Hiking with Keiki but recently found this list through Oahu Family Activities that helped a lot and gave real family input based on their experiences.
2. Family Friendly Beaches
We live on the south shore of Oahu, and while there are many other beaches on the island – these are just our favorite based on our location, the type of waves that are appropriate for young kids, space to lay out and relax, availability of shade, restrooms, parking… things that make a family visit easier.
- Ala Moana Beach Park – Magic Island lagoon at the end of the peninsula, beautiful view of the ocean, and waters within the lagoon or the bay are perfect for swimming and paddle boarding.
- Lanikai Beach – soft white sand and smoother waves
- Bellows Beach – soft sand, trees for shade, may need military access to further campsite areas
- Kaimana Beach – relaxed family beach, mostly locals, close to Waikiki
- Pupukea Beach Park (Sharks Cove) – tidepools for babies to sit together in shallow water
- Waimea Bay – large beach area, but parking can get full quickly in the busy summer months. Watch for strong current advisories at different times of the year
Be aware of jellyfish warning or strong current advisories. Usually the lifeguards will post a sign in the sand, but check Hawaii Beach Safety for alerts ahead of time.
3. Pearl Harbor
This is an educational experience of the history of World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor by the empire of Japan (December 7, 1941). We took the kids out on the ferry ride to the Arizona Memorial and through the walking tours onto the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Bowfin submarine. Their first visit was when they were 5 and 6 years old – my advice would be to go according to their own pace. You might be fascinated by all the history and details on an adult level, but depending on their attention span, just let them experience it through their own eyes and interests and questions. The kids loved all the mechanical elements, the guns, the ammo, the crawl spaces and the vastness of the ships themselves.
4. Wet ‘n’ Wild Water Park
The kids love this park, I would say it’s safe to bring children as young as 2 – there is a shallow kids pool area where you can help them, and when they are tall enough to walk along the bottom by themselves. It’s most fun when the kids are at least 42″ tall and can go on most of the rides or slides. There are plenty of chairs or loungers around the park for parents, also lockers to keep valuables.
I recommend getting there when the park opens to get good seats, otherwise there are open lawn areas that may not be situated close enough to watch the kids. There is also a small fee for parking. There are season passes for local families, but also one time purchase discounts through Papa John’s Pizza stores and Taco Bell on the island. Check the Wet n Wild Hawaii website for more seasonal discounts. They have a snack bar on site, but we bring our own cooler of food to save money except… they do not allow outside food in the park, so we leave to eat in the parking lot and come back in (they give you re-entry wrist bands).
5. Polynesian Cultural Center
If your family has seen the new Disney movie Moana, the culture represented there is from the Māori people, very distinct from the Fijians, Samoans, Hawaiians, and others. This is a cultural experience unlike any other that I think everyone needs to do at least once. The Polynesian Cultural Center is on the northernmost part of the island, so you will have a beautiful drive on your way there, but the center itself was created to educate people on all of the different Polynesian cultures. There are activities for the whole family in each “village” that represents each culture. The first time I went was in 2004, and I have never forgotten the specific distinctions because each demonstration and activity was so unique!
6. Haunama Bay
This is a beautiful, relaxing, and educational experience for the whole family. If it’s your first time visiting the park, you will be required to watch a 10 minute video about the coral reefs and how not to contribute to the damage of these naturally growing life forms, and to stay safe among them and the water currents. Do not swim past the reef, even as an experienced swimmer. There is snorkel equipment to rent for kids and adults, but we like to bring our own. Also a good idea to bring your own food and drinks, but there is a small snack bar at the top of the hill.
Speaking of… there is a steep hill to walk down, but for a small fee (haha) they will ride you down on a large golf cart vehicle. If you are in decent shape and able to carry the babies and your stuff, go ahead and walk down yourself. There is a safe railing to hold onto. If you are otherwise not able to lean on your knees, take the cart. Enjoy a beautiful view of the bay!
7. Honolulu Zoo
The Zoo! We live within walking distance now so we go more often. Before, the parking situation annoyed me because it was always full and you have to pay to park, but that’s my only little rant. The rest of this experience is just great – the landscaping inside is beautiful, and they even have a little kid area with a jungle gym to play and a petting zoo in one of the corners. We also attended a friend’s birthday party hosted here in the community area. If you’re local, it is well worth getting an annual pass, and we also brings our own drinks and snacks into the park. There is a snack bar but it can be pricey. A wonderful educational experience, my kids are old enough to follow the map they give you at the entrance and plan their own excursion. The new elephant exhibit is quite nice and more spacious than before. We also just go and throw down a blanket on one of the beautiful lawn areas and relax.
8. Botanical Gardens
Oahu’s botanical gardens are an excellent way to experience nature with your children. There are thousands of beautiful plant species, colors, shapes, sizes – wonderful opportunities to explore Hawaii in a natural state. Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is a peaceful place on the east side of the island, outside of the major city areas. The park allows kids to feed ducks and fish and provide simple fishing poles to fish directly from the water, great for younger kids, too!
9. Sea Life Park
It’s our little version of Sea World right here on the island! This park is very kid-friendly, including interactive exhibits with starfish, turtles, penguins (yes, penguins!), and of course, the dolphin show. They even have a jungle gym in the middle of the park. Actually a very smart move on their part because it’s a great way for the kids to burn off energy during the visit and in between shows. We can spend most of the day there, so again, we bring lunch with us.
10. Kualoa Ranch
This property offers quite a few family fun activities including ATV riding, horseback riding, tours of the places where they filmed Jurassic Park. They even raise cattle on site and sell fresh grass-fed beef, which a lot of my goodie friends go nuts about. Fresh beef is a big deal when most of our meat is shipped from the mainland. We also attended a friend’s wedding which was just an incredible sight in the view of the beautiful Ko’olau mountains in the background. This side of the island is simply breathtaking, and there are many more activities the property offers.
If you want to experience real Hawaiian food and dancing, a luau is a great family experience. Prepare for at least 4 hours of activities and games, maybe a canoe ride, temporary tattoos lei making and basket weaving. The two most popular luaus on the island are Germaines, or Paradise Cove. My husband and I went to Paradise Cove with another couple on a date night, but we would go back with the kids now that we know what it’s about. Especially now that they’ve tried Hawaiian food.
12. Shave Ice
Woah. What is this doing in the activities lineup?! Shave Ice is an experience all on it’s own. And it’s in the outdoor section because it’s just what you do when you’re outdoors in Hawaii.
By the way… never refer to shave ice as a snow cone. And it’s not shaved ice. It’s shave ice. And it’s delicious because the consistency of the ice should be as close to powder as you can get. That’s what determines the quality of the shave ice place. It’s even better when they put a scoop of ice cream at the bottom… and condensed milk on top. Here are a few of our favorite places:
13. Dole Pineapple Plantation – Train Ride and Maze
Still a popular attraction on the North Shore, the Dole Pineapple plantation offers the unique experience of a huge maze! For the thrill seeker and problem solver alike, this is a must-see on the way to Haleiwa town and other North Shore Beaches.
14. Children’s Discovery Center
This place is amazing! I wish I could show you all the pictures of all the little mini towns and kid-sized areas this place has to offer. It is completely educational, but completely fun for kids between ages 2 to 12. My kids could play here all day, but I find it best to get there early and try to be done by lunch time. I’ve been to this place so many times that I pretty much let them go in each room, set the timer for 30 minutes, then move on to the next room. Each area is full of surprise and wonder, completely hands on, and it allows for the kid’s creativity. They get to be mini grown ups for the day… check it out and be blown away.
15. Bishop Museum
There are four parts to the Bishop Museum, the planetarium, the old hall, the exhibition hall, and the new hall. The building itself is beautiful, and an architecture lesson in and of itself. The planetarium has chairs where you sit and look up at the computerized constellation program on the domed screen ceiling. It may be too much to handle for younger kids who may not understand what is happening. The images are really in your face. The original hall is three stories, and includes mostly Hawaiian heritage displays as well as a giant life size sperm whale (so cool!) The exhibition hall is for mobile exhibits that are only open for a limited time. The new hall is totally awesome because it features every phase of a volcano and the impacts of waves and wind on the environment. There are three floors to explore and hands on activities. Bring a lunch and enjoy on the lawn outside or under a covered pavilion.
16. Pacific Aviation Museum
This museum, operated out of the active military base Ford Island, is located in the middle of Pearl Harbor. There is so much history in this space, not to mention gigantic airplanes from almost every war era in the 20th century. Walking into the old hangars (some of which still have original bullet hotels from the attack on Pearl Harbor) and seeing the kids up in awe at these amazing machines is just incredible. There are also volunteer docents who give tours and explain the history as you walk through each hangar. It’s fun to let the kids take their own pictures of these exhibits (if you trust them with your phone or camera for a bit).
17. Waikiki Aquarium
The aquarium is a great place to take younger kids, a relatively short tour of indoor tanks, and there is an outdoor area as well with sea lions. They can run around in the small grassy area and have snacks picnic style. Parking is limited to the street or finding space across the street at the zoo.
18. Iolani Palace
Taking a tour of this historic building is a must for school aged students and adults. Walking through each room will take you back to the 19th century and an experienced docent will explain how this building played an important part
19. Honolulu Museum of Art – Family Sunday
Free Event! Every third Sunday of the month is Family Sunday at the art museum! Bank of Hawaii sponsors all activities that are set up to teach the family about art and involve them in concepts related to the art process.
20. Ice Palace
Yes, there is an ice skating rink in Hawaii. In fact, I think it’s the only one in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My kids love this place, mostly because they get to wear layers of clothing, haha. Chloe has been saving up her money to go again, she absolutely loved learning to skate with the little trainer bars they have on the side, now she wants to do it without the bar and go all the way around the rink with Daddy. There are public skating hours, so make sure you don’t go during a hockey practice! They have a snack bar, a small arcade area, picnic tables, and stadium seating. Skates are available for rent at the front.
This article was found first on Practical Family you can read the original here.